Malawi on Friday freed 377 prisoners to mark 48 years of independence from Britain, the home affairs ministry said.
Most of the inmates released had “served at least half of their prison sentences with good behaviour and were not convicted of serious crimes,” the ministry said in a statement.
Malawi's 23 prisons hold 12 000 inmates - double their capacity.
A retired high court judge, Duncan Tambala once described the conditions in the country's jails as “hell on earth”.
The cash-strapped southern African country marks its independence anniversary without pomp and fanfare - because the former British colony is broke.
New President Joyce Banda - who came into power two months ago after the sudden death of president Bingu wa Mutharika - ordered low-key celebrations saying there was no money for partying as the country was recovering from the suspension of vital foreign aid funds.
Banda will lead national prayers while a football match between the hosts and Africa's reigning champions Zambia takes take place in the afternoon as part of the celebrations.
Past festivities in the former British colony involved police and military parades and displays, traditional dances and several banquets.